RACINE — The attorney’s fees for the contempt of court case against Racine Alderman Sandy Weidner totaled nearly $18,000, according to documents recently made public.
That was from one of the documents that had been sealed as part of the Weidner open records case. It remains to be determined if the city or Weidner will end up paying those costs.
The Journal Times submitted an open records request in November for the attorney bills, but was denied at the time because the case was sealed.
Attorney Michael Cohen, of the firm Meissner, Tierney Fisher and Nichols, billed at a rate of $350 per hour for 25.6 hours of work, and associate Dieter J. Juedes billed at a rate of $205 per hour for 42.7 hours of work, plus $33.25 in costs related to the motion.
Because Weidner was found guilty of civil contempt of court in October, the court ordered her to pay those fees. However, because the case is going to the Court of Appeals, payment will not be enforced until the higher court issues a ruling.
Weidner’s attorney, Terry Rose of Kenosha-based Rose and Rose, filed an affidavit arguing that the $17,780 total cost was “excessive in light of the issues involved.” Rose himself stated he charged $300 an hour for 11.6 hours of work, totaling $3,480, which Weidner paid.
Rose told The Journal Times on Tuesday that the issue has not been resolved. Should the appellate court rule against Weidner, Rose said he intends to continue contesting Cohen’s and Juedes’ fees.
As of Tuesday, it was unknown when the Court of Appeals will hear Weidner’s case.
The Journal Times contacted the City Attorney’s Office for comment on Tuesday, but did not receive an immediate response.
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Hundreds of pages of documents from the Weidner case were made available to the public this week after being under seal for almost a year.
Racine County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz sealed the open records case in February 2018. After discussing the case with the news media in August, Weidner was found guilty of civil contempt of court.
Weidner’s attorneys filed a challenge to unseal the case, as well as to the contempt of court conviction, with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
The news media, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, USA Today Network-Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association (of which The Journal Times is a member) filed a motion to intervene in the case, requesting the case and documents be unsealed.
On Dec. 5, the Court of Appeals issued a ruling in the case. It states that “the news media shall be allowed to participate in further proceedings related to whether record items are appropriately sealed from public view.”
On Jan. 9, representatives from the City Attorney’s Office; Godfrey and Kahn, the law firm representing the news media; and Gasiorkiewicz reviewed the case’s documents to determine which would be released to the public and under what conditions.
The city had to submit redacted versions of documents to Gasiorkiewicz’s office for review by last Thursday. The Journal Times learned Tuesday that the documents were available for inspection.
The roots of the matter
The case stems from a closed-session meeting in the fall of 2017, during which Racine City Attorney Scott Letteney showed City Council members a collection of emails that Weidner and two other aldermen had sent to constituents that Letteney thought violated attorney-client privilege. Weidner claimed the emails were publicly available information.
Letteney said he was going to send the emails to the city’s Ethics Board for review. When Weidner requested a copy of the emails, she was denied. She filed a lawsuit in December 2017 demanding the records.